GLENS FALLS — Up front, in chairs along the brick wall in a second-floor room above The Bullpen, were a coach, a team president and a newly signed player. Two more players appeared via video feed.
They are the building blocks of a franchise trying to reconstitute itself after a pandemic.
Just as important were the other people in the room — the fans. About a hundred of them, packed into a small room, a scene that was unimaginable a year ago.
Friday’s press conference centered on the signing of the Thunder’s first three players for the 2021-22 season. The team presented three familiar faces — Shane Harper, Pete MacArthur and Rob Bordson — each of whom has a connection to hockey in Glens Falls.
Harper, who once played for the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL, has played 639 professional games. MacArthur, a 35-year-old Clifton Park native, has played three previous season in a Thunder uniform. Bordson played with the Phantoms from 2011 to 2014 and was captain of the Thunder at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
All three have a knack for scoring.
“I think if you look at their resumes, you see guys who can really score,” Thunder coach Alex Loh said. “At the end of the day you have to score more goals than the other team, so these three guys put us in a good position to do that. More than that, it’s the leadership they bring. They’ve all played at a high level. … It’s guys that really know how to be professionals, and they can really bring everybody’s level up to theirs.”
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If Friday's outing is any indication, fans are ready to come back to the arena after missing the end of the 2019-20 season and all of last season. Team president Jeff Mead said the team already has 1,000 season tickets, well on the way to the goal of 1,500.
In addition, Mead said the team is coming out of the pandemic in relatively good financial health. A fundraising campaign brought in $135,000 and federal salary protection made up for some losses. The team and arena should be fully staffed by mid-August.
The team turned its first three signings into a public event, and the players’ connections to Glens Falls hockey was the highlight. Harper, who has spent part of his summers in the area since playing with the Phantoms, was on hand for the press conference.
The Thunder were below .500 when their 2019-20 season came to a halt. So there’s some work to do when it comes to getting back to winning.
“We missed (the injured) Michael Sdao and Conor Riley for over half the year,” Loh said of the last season the Thunder played. “Those are two huge parts of the team. It’s more off the ice almost than on it. They’re both excellent players but they’re also guys that make sure their locker room’s functioning the right way.
“There’s certain things I can do differently for sure as a coach. Just handle different situations different ways. That’s what the time off has given me an opportunity to sort of evaluate, how to kind of handle different things in different ways. Hopefully with that new knowledge I can step in this year and help guide the team the right way.”
Loh stressed the leadership skills of the Thunder’s first three signees. They’ve all been around for a while. Harper has seen some time in the NHL and well as in Europe and the AHL. MacArthur has played professionally since the 2007-08 season. Bordson has played extensively in Europe and North America.
The Thunder’s schedule offers a lot of weekend home games, including some Friday-Saturday-Sunday combinations at Cool Insuring Arena. It can be tough to keep attendance up through three straight home dates, but Mead said he was happier to have the Sunday games than mid-week dates.
One scheduling uncertainty is what will happen if the US border with Canada is still closed come October. Newfoundland and Trois Rivieres are both in the same division with the Thunder. Mead said the schedule may have to be revamped if those teams can’t play.
Follow Sports Editor Greg Brownell on Twitter: @glensfallsse.